The 8th March 2018 is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.  Gillian Bristow remembers the fantastic work and influence of the late Doreen Massey who inspired and paved the way in understanding regional studies, space, and place.  Today, at the Regional Studies Association, we wanted to raise awareness of some of the inspirational women who currently work in the fields of regional studies and regional science. 

The RSA prides itself on having an internationally diverse membership and facilitates the highest standards of theoretical development, empirical analysis and policy debate of issues at sub-national levels. Abeer Elshater, the RSA Egyptian Ambassador emphasises how ‘Worldwide, women possess a quintessential part of the enlightenment. Today, in the Middle East and particularly in Egypt, the role of women in terms of social stability and a woman's right to the city has doubled in importance and women are able to provide many of the answers”.

Regions are a significant spatial scale for examining the nature and impacts of political, economic, social and environmental change and innovation.  ‘The structure of regions and cities are products of design phenomena based on contributions from different genders and age groups,’ says Abeer Elshater. She continues 'Future city policy and planning practice must demand of us to consider ways to empower children, especially females in developing countries; to reflect their preferences, aspirations and visions for planning urban change.' 

On this day celebrating women’s achievements, it is worth remembering that although the impact of regional research is significant, sometimes the contributors remain unnoticed outside the realms of academia and policy. Sarah Ayres, an RSA Board Member, has built her international reputation as a leading expert on English devolution and governance theory.  Her examination of the motives and aspirations of individual Whitehall departments for decentralisation in England is the only academic work to identify the informal political positions and departmental wrangling behind decentralisation initiatives.  The empowerment of females should not be assumed, even within the realms of academia and policy; Julie Tian Miao, an RSA Regions editor, who is interested in innovation policies and high-tech clusters, and how they contribute to economic development in some of the less-favoured regions, was deeply aware of the gender bias in these terrains, both practically and academically. She states, ‘I could sometimes sense that I was treated less seriously during fieldwork because I am a female.’ Her determination (an important skill for women in all fields) for recognition meant that she took part in the RSA Master Class hosted during the EU Open Days and presented her work.  She recognises that through these impactful activities, she ‘could get my intellectual efforts known to the world.’  Donna Carmichael, the RSA Student Representative describes the support by the RSA, in that ‘working with a group of progressive and thoughtful Board members, including a strong and highly competent female CEO, has provided me with excellent opportunities to make meaningful and innovative contributions.’ 

In our celebration and raising awareness of women in the field of regional studies, Alejandra Trejo, the RSA Mexican ambassador recognises that ‘Society needs the scientific contributions that both women and men can make in different fields of knowledge. Regional Studies offers a formidable platform to increase and promote inclusive participation and recognition of scientists.’  The work to normalise gender equality is gathering momentum, but there remains no room for complacency: there remains work to be done to press forward and progress gender parity.  As Helen Lawton Smith so succinctly notes ‘In order to help to ensure gender equality, there needs to be system change so that opportunities for women are embedded in the processes used where key decisions on events, invitations and publications are made.’  Julie Tian Miao recognises that ‘networking among female scholars could leverage our collective importance.’  Although we celebrate International Women’s Day today, there needs to be a continual press for progress until gender parity is reached.  As Helen Lawton Smith emphasises ‘To bring this about, it is important to have robust knowledge about where problems currently lie and clear evidence about the benefits that including gender equality practices in these processes would bring.’

The RSA would like to thank the following women for their contributions to regional studies and their support with this article:

  • Abeer Elshater
  • Alejandra Trejo
  • Amy Glasmeier
  • Ann Markusen
  • Darje Reuschke
  • Donna Carmichael
  • Doreen Massey
  • Flavia Martinelli
  • Franziska Sielker
  • Gillian Bristow
  • Hilal Erkus
  • Helen Lawton Smith
  • Irene Hardill
  • Jessie Poon
  • Joan Fitzgerald
  • Julie Tian Miao
  • Mia Grey
  • Sabine Dörrey
  • Sally Hardy
  • Sarah Ayres